Worship, Music and Culture

Last week I shared with you the aspect of Praise and Worship songs replacing traditional hymns. Your responses were varied but appreciated. Today I follow up with the above caption, “Worship Music and Culture,” which is published in the current Elder’s Review published by IADPA. A proposed “Junkanoo Rush Out for Christ,” by a religious leader in the Bahamas sparked the article, some years ago. Today, it has become an annual practice and therefore I ask, “How far should the church go with this thing called Junkanoo?” “What’s wrong with it?” If it makes one feel good and if it is for Christ, shouldn’t it be allowed? Personally, I am not sure that I have all the answers, but I would rather address the purpose of worship and the role of music and culture as they pertain to worship.

The Aim of Worship

According to Alain Coralie, a church leader in Nairobi, Kenya, “The primary point for worship leaders to realize is not how to make worship more appealing and relevant to seekers, but how to make believers engage more fully with their Creator and Redeemer.” I could not agree more, for some worship services tend to be more anthropocentric (human focused) than God-centric. Our personal time with God and/or our corporate worship have little to do with self and our needs as important and real as they may be. Worship is about focusing on God and His word.

Given the aforementioned, it is necessary that the worship leader, committee and the pastor get together to ensure that what is planned for worship comports with or lines up with the motif of worship to God and not on what makes man feel good. The music and whatever activity chosen must not be for the sake of popularity, to appeal to the youth per se, to appeal to non-church goers, or even to increase church attendance -as important as all of these concerns are. When these or any of them become the basis for worship, we are likely to dispense with the objective of worship for the sake of fulfilling any of the above, which may result in watering down biblical principles. We must remember that we do not change people. God does that through His Holy Spirit. Jesus says, "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself”" (John 12:32, NKJV).

Music and Culture

Music and culture must be informed by a sound biblical Theology of worship. Music is an ongoing debate, for it has to do with taste, type and appeal. Some love this type and others a different genre of music. The overarching principle for me must be, “Is it directing worshippers to God?” Is the aim of the worship leader to lead worshippers into worship of God, as opposed to impressing or appealing to what makes one feel good?

Culturally, we in the Bahamas tend to be a certain way in our worship, expressions and style. And yet within our various churches and denominations there is variation. Some churches favor drums, the guitar and the like, but as for others they do not. As for me, I feel that a more relevant issue has to do with the purpose of worship and the preparation of those who lead out and play musical instruments in worship. An instrument under the control of a converted musician can be an enhancement to the worship of God, pointing away from the instrument or person to God.

Notwithstanding the above, I struggle with Junkanoo music being played in the halls of the church. My experience is that such music involving the use of cowbells, the goatskin drums, horns and whistles with its pulsating beat is likely to get people “rushing,” moving up and down, swaying to the Junkanoo rhythms and feeling justified, especially when Christian lyrics have been added or have replaced the secular ones.

Interpretive dancing also raises questions. Most times when I get questions on this and the use of Junkanoo music, the concern is to save the youth by allowing for greater participation and attracting more worshippers. Also, some persons argue that David danced before the Lord. It may help to take another look at the text and its context. However, as already noted, none of these (though important) ought to be the primary basis for worship; for the premise is wrong. Worship is about God and what He gives to us through His Word. Our understanding of the purpose of worship and not what we desire ought to inform what we do. We must start with our focus and concentration on God.

Also, as important as emotions are in worship, we must be challenged to think and reflect. We must not be afraid even of silence. In fact some of us as preachers and church leaders feel that if folks are not saying “amen,” we are not getting through. Again I underscore that the objective of whatever we do ought to be God-directed, God-centered and God-focused.

Preparation for Worship Is Necessary

For the aforementioned to be realized, we as church officers, local elders and pastors should give serious attention to preparation of self for worship. He or she who spends time with God will experience such a moving of the Spirit of God upon his/her life that as he/she speaks, announces, reads, plays an instrument and preaches, God will take over appealing to the hearers through a given service. On the other hand, one who is lacking in preparation is likely to be misguided. Whatever we do must be informed by the word of God. Culture does not inform the word; instead the opposite must take place. Our preparation should not be to determine how many positive feedbacks, or “amens,” or approval we can get. “Authentic worship does not start with felt-needs or human ingenuity but God’s activity in history” (Alain Coralie).